“Hi, I’m Dave Chapelle. This week, I’m hosting SNL, with musical guests Black Star on an episode that’s so Black, it’ll be on BET!” said Dave in one of the promos for the Nov. 12 episode of Saturday Night Live. After cracking up Ego Nwodim and Black Star, Dave assured viewers that the show would air on NBC as scheduled. However, his other claim may be true, considering the lyrical content woven throughout Black Star’s verses and rhymes.
The duo – Talib Kweli and Yassin Bey – are set to perform on SNL eight months after releasing No Fear of Time, the group’s long-awaited sophomore album. It’s been 24 years between No Fear of Time and the group’s semi-eponymous debut, but this might be the first time that millions hear their music. No Fear of Time is an exclusive on the podcast app Luminary. Bey and Kweli worked with Dave Capelle on his podcast, The Midnight Miracle, in 2021. As of Nov. 2022, it isn’t on any other streaming service.
(Ahead of the SNL performance, Luminary announced the second season of its award-winning show The Midnight Miracle, hosted by Dave Chappelle, yasiin bey, and Talib Kwei. “Season 2 full episodes will drop weekly continuing through early 2023, and Luminary will announce the first episode release date in the coming days. Season 2 features recordings from live audience sessions in London and Amsterdam while Chappelle was on tour with Chris Rock, as well as sessions in Yellow Springs, Ohio.” Click here for more information.)
“That means the artists get paid,” Kewi told NPR about putting the album on Luminary. “If you are truly a fan of Black Star, then you will respect the fact that what made sense for us, business-wise, was for us to put it on Luminary and get paid regardless of what happens in the music business.”
So, with this being a major musical moment for many, here’s what you need to know about Black Star.
Black Star Is A Rap Duo
Black Star is a rap duo consisting of Talib Kweli and Yassin Bey (formerly Mos Def.) Bey and Kweli first met through cyphers at New York City’s Washington Square Park in the early 1990s. They also performed together at open-mic spoken word events. Bey would join DCQ and Ces to form Urban Thermo Dynamics, while Kweli made his first appearance on Mood’s 1994 track, “Transforeify.” Bey and Kweli teamed for “Freestyle” on the 1997 Rawkus records compilation, per All Music. A year later, they released Talib Kweli and Mos Def Are Black Star. Though released on the same day as Jay-Z’s Vol. 2, OutKast’s Aquemini, and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Love Movement, the album sold well and reached No. 53 on the Billboard 200.
“The messaging on the Black Star album, the first one, resonates now,” Kewli told NPR in May 2022. “And we weren’t saying anything that much different than, you know, people like Amiri Baraka in the Black Arts movement and what Nina Simone was saying onstage towards the end of her career. We stand tall on the shoulders of our ancestors. The canon of black art is amazing, and it is the lifeblood of all great art that comes from America in particular. Black people in America have been the moral compass, and we have been the ones who have elevated the art, and we have been the ones who have made the most original American things.”
They Took Their Name From Marcus Garvey
“Black Star — we’re named for the honorable Marcus Garvey, famously a Jamaican immigrant who came to America and was trying to build ships, the Black Star Line, to get Americans back to Africa,” Kewli told NPR. “[That] is the sort of beginning of Pan-Africanism and a push for reparations. So with Black Star, we’ve always been about hip-hop, about Pan-Africanism, spirituality, all these things that are necessary for the liberation of our people. And I think it’s timely that we come back now.”
Black Star Is More Than The Sum Of Its Parts
As to why it took more than two decades for a follow-up album, both Kweli and Bey got busy. In 1999, Yassin Bey released his first solo album, Black on Both Sides, a pillar of late ’90s hip-hop (especially for backpackers and those looking further beyond MTV at the time.) Kweli and producer Hi-Tek issued Train of Thought in 2000, and he would soon establish himself as a lyricist’s lyricist.
“I dumb down for my audience and double my dollars,” Jay-Z rapped on “Moment of Clarity,” off of 2003’s The Black Album. “They criticize me for it, yet they all yell ‘holla’ / If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be lyrically Talib Kweli / Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / But I did 5 mill’ – I ain’t been rhyming like Common since (Woo!)”
Kweli has been prolific, having released eight solo albums and just as many collab albums since 2000. Bey would put out a handful of albums, but his career in front of a camera would interrupt his musical flow. He appeared in films like Monster’s Ball, The Italian Job, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and 16 Blocks.
Black Star’s Album Almost Didn’t Come Out
In 2018, Bey and Kweli teamed up for a surprise reunion at a Robert Glasper show. In 2022, they performed alongside Robert Glasper, Dave Chappelle, Thundercat, Flying Lotus, and more at the brand’s debut Blue Note Napa Festival. And, in 2021, Kweli said that they had the new record in the can – but it wasn’t coming out.
“I tried my best y’all. Flew around the globe. Paid for this out of pocket,” he wrote in a now-deleted IG post, per Stereogum. “All for the culture. I’m a fan of Black Star too. I want to see this come out as bad as y’all do or more. But people who never made a beat, never wrote a rhyme in they life got they fingers in the pie and are being disrespectful to what me and my brothers built. It’s in Gods hands now. I’m on to other things, life is too short to be disrespected by culture vultures. Maybe y’all will get to hear this album after I’m gone.”
Their New Album Is Due In Part To Dave Chapelle
“About three to four years ago I was visiting Yasiin in Europe, and we started to talk about songs to do on an album, so I flew an engineer out just to see what that would be,” Kweli said in a press release announcing No Fear of Time, per Stereogum. “Once I realized this conversation is starting to organically become a creative conversation, I started making sure to have the engineer around at all times. One day, we were just in a hotel listening to Madlib beats, and he’s like, ‘Play that Madlib tape again.’ I’m playing the beats and he starts doing rhymes to the beats. And that’s how we did the first song…”
“This is very similar to how we did the first album. But the first album, there were no mobile studios,” he added. “This entire album, we have not set foot in one recording studio. It’s all been done in hotel rooms and backstage at Dave Chappelle shows.”